TpT’er and secondary ELA teacher Danielle Knight sings the praises of thematic journaling for addressing writing requirements and encouraging student creativity.

So Much to Do, So Little Time

Have you ever asked yourself, “How can I fit all of this curricular material into my classroom routine and still squeeze in standardized test prep?” This happened to many of us last year, who experienced state testing reform. In teaching, there are things you can’t control. So, you need to adapt quickly, as things are always changing around you.

Thematic Journaling: The “Write” Approach

Thematic Journaling: Recall, Observe, Improve, For an Entire Year
My “Thematic Journaling” resource includes enough prompts for an entire school year.

Take writing, for example. Stand-alone writing lessons can feel nearly impossible to implement these days. Who has the time? Enter thematic journaling, a fun and effective way to create a classroom writing routine, especially in the secondary ELA classroom.

Thematic journals are collections of students’ writings aligned with the themes of the current literary unit. This strategy is great for teachers who are under pressure to cover more material in less time.

The Big Benefits of Thematic Journaling

Thematic journaling focuses on heroism, loneliness, greed, friendship, struggle, loyalty, and more — the most common themes of literature. Your students will immerse themselves in the literature and identify with the characters. I enjoy my multicultural students’ responses to thematic prompts as their different experiences and perspectives are so interesting.

This journaling strategy is also a great discussion starter. Your classes will take this as a great jumping-off point. I seem to always go back to the thematic prompt during class, at the end, and in follow-up classes.

Make Journaling a “Thing” In Your Classroom

Thematic Journaling: Recall, Observe, Improve, For an Entire Year
Provide your students with a variety of journal covers to appeal to both genders and tastes. They can color the covers to make them their own,

Encourage your students to dedicate one of their notebooks to be their journal. I treat the journal entries as a requirement, and I grade them once a week. Therefore, it’s best to provide your students with clear expectations at the start of the year.

I also photocopy the journal prompts as I complete them; it helps build up anticipation and brand new thought. Students always look to the board for the day’s agenda and objectives, so I still like to write the prompt on the board or bring it up on the Smart Board.

Use Music to Encourage Creativity and Evoke Emotion

So, how can you get students in the mood to want to write? Music is a great start. Have soft, pleasant, instrumental tunes playing in the background as students enter your classroom. Over time, this will become a cue that it’s time to relax, get creative, and let the ideas flow into their journals.

Keep the Journals Close By

Create an English Language Arts classroom with readily available resources for students to be successful.

If you’re worried about students not bringing their journals to class, fear no more! Simply store the journals in your classroom. I create labels for different periods, so my students can find them quickly. By keeping them in your room, you’ll also eliminate the chances of any journals getting lost.

In any event, start off being prepared for your writing lessons. There’s nothing worse than scrambling in the morning for a prompt. Have them all on hand, and get ready for your students’ creativity to be unleashed!


Danielle KnightDanielle Knight is a NJ-based secondary special education ELA teacher and teacher cadets’ facilitator. She teaches small group instruction classes and is an experienced inclusion teacher and drama teacher. Danielle’s undergraduate degree is in Communication Studies, and she holds a Master’s degree in Education. She’s been a  TpT Teacher-Author since 2012, and her TpT store (Danielle Knight) is filled with materials for the differentiated, student-centered classroom.

Danielle is constantly on a mission to bring literature to life and get her students engaged in reading and writing. She prides herself with accomplishing the development of successful partnerships within the TpT community, being a wife and mother, and balancing a full-time teaching career. You can read more about Danielle, her TpT store, her classroom, and her resources by visiting her blog, Study All Knight.